Course schedule

Fall 2009 (under construction) Suzanne Kemmer

The schedule below is subject to revision. I have included the topics we would ideally discuss, as they relate to the overarching historical currents in the field and the relation of particular ideas to these, but we may not have time for all. Moreover, other interesting topics might come up that relate to the students' backgrounds and studies, which may displace some of the less central topics below. I will revise the syllabus as we go on to reflect the topics we actually discuss in depth.

DayDate Topic Readings and Assignments
TuAug 25 Introduction. Grammatical traditions outside Europe. Overview of landmarks in linguistic ideas in the west. Greeks; medieval European views; 16th-18th century modern language grammarians; Wilhelm von Humboldt and realization of range of variation but also commonalities. He raises the question: what do all languages have in common despite all the variation in language types and structures? The idea of universalism. Big picture: Repeated swings between focus on variation (and lack of constraints on it) vs. focus on universal similarities / commonalities in human lgs/cultures.

No required reading, but go over Owlspace Notes. Recommended as overview reading: Pedersen (1931). Ch. 1 & 2

ThAug 27 Sir William Jones posits common source for Latin, Greek, Sanskrit (and Germanic and Celtic). Early comparative-historical linguists (Bopp, Grimm, Schleicher). Proto-Indo-European hypothesized; sound correspondences described; sound changes identified; family tree model; proto-languages; search for the "Proto-Indo-European homeland"; first attempts at reconstructions. No required reading, but go over Owlspace Notes. Recommended: continue reading Pedersen (1931); can just read parts on the people mentioned in this schedule.

TuSep 1 O&B 1. The "Neogrammarian Manifesto". Comparative linguistics becomes 'Modern Linguistics'. Critiques of earlier phase of comparative linguistics. What is Linguistics, Take 1. Call to establish Linguistics as a science, Take 1. Osthoff and Brugmann (1878). Also read thumbnail bio of Brugmann (left)
O&B 2. Regularity of Sound change. Regularity (generalization) and science. Call to investigate present-day "dialects" (but: largely limited to Europe). Uniformitarianism: languages of ancient times were not fundamentally different, in nature, function, or diachronic processes, from modern languages.

ThSep 3 O&B 3. More on sound change; seeds of sociolinguistics. Sound laws (regularity) vs. principled exceptions (analogy; other sporadic but known processes). Accounting for other exceptions: borrowing. Modern controversy: exceptionless but slow change (leaving residues in population that look non-regular but had just not spread all the way through speech community) vs. lexical diffusion (stepwise spread through lexicon). Attempts to resolve the controversy: Labov and Bybee posit division in phonological processes that lead to different historical effects ("Neogrammarian sound change" vs. other types of sound changes). But: divisions are different--so far, there is no universally agreed typology of sound changes in terms of regularity and spread as far as I know, but I am not a sociolinguist). Osthoff and Brugmann (1878) cont.

TuSep 8 Saussure 1. Casting off the diachronic. The beginnings of structuralism. What is Linguistics, Take 2. A new distinction: 'A Language' (Langue) as a system of social Signs (form-meaning units), vs. Speaking (Parole), the speech actions of the individual. Saussure (1916) Chapters 1-5. Also read thumbnail bio of Saussure.

ThSep 10 Saussure 2. The Saussurian view of how language works. Fundamental principles/properties of language in general: What is language, Take 1. What is the proper study of Linguistics--how do we cut out the related but inessential aspects of human language so that we can properly look at a coherent and investigable part of it. Saussure (1916) Ch. 1-5 cont.

TuSep 15 Saussure 3. The Sign as a psychological yet simultaneously social unit: An associative link between 'concept' (Signifié) and 'sound image' (Signifiant), but only the part shared by a some community. The arbitrariness of the Sign, Take 1. Saussure (1916) Part I General Principles, Chapters 1-2.

ThSep 17 Saussure 4. Mutability of the sign; Static and evolutionary Linguistics. Two dimensions of language: Synchrony and diachrony. (For your exploration: Relations of the Sign to newer ideas about language: Phoneme/allophone; Competence vs. performance; mirror neurons linking phonological perception with motor articulations. Subsequent developments of Saussurian structuralism. ) Saussure Part I General Principles, Ch. 1-2 cont. Recommended: Harris and Taylor 1989.

TuSep 22 Boas 1. Class question: What is Boas best known for today. Background on 19th century ideas of typology: morphological typology. Isolating, agglutinating, polysynthetic, fusional (synthetic) . Boas as start of a modern and empirical investigation of language structure. 19th century ideas of race, language and culture; persistence and misuse in 20th century. Boas' demonstration of the logical independence of race ("physical type"), language, culture. Boas (1911), 1-20 (up to start of Grammatical Categories). Also read thumbnail bio of Boas and Essay on Boas (links left).

ThSep 24 Boas 2. Boas synthesizes phonetics knowledge and makes it into a useful typological/descriptive framework for any language. Sound structure. "Sound blindness." Grammatical categories. Tense/aspect; gender, number. Boas (1911) cont.
TuSep 29 Boas 3. Grammatical categories cont.; gender and other nominal classification systems. Obligatory categories and their implications for relation of language and thought. Adds a more scientific, systematic investigation of languages to address the Humboldtian question of how a person's thoughts relate to their language and/or culture--Big Question #1 in Linguistics, stripped bare of folk ideas assuming tight correspondence of language, thought, culture, aligning with presumed scale of cultural superiority. A survey of some grammatical categories/concepts, including some very unfamiliar to Europeans. Boas claim: essential cognitive sameness of humans, thus: all lexical and grammatical categories observed are POTENTIALLY available to all languages, if the cultural conditions are right, i.e. if people need to learn them, they will be able to and the language will adapt its structures to the new concepts. Wide variation in categorization due to differences in culture/environment (for some categories) and just due to historical accident in others. If a language gets into a particular historical channel it is perhaps more likely to develop a certain set of distinctions rather than another one possible in the variation-space of human linguistic categorization. Does Boas' view entail UNIVERSALITY of certain concepts at a pan-human level? Are there universal semantic primitives, e.g. number concepts? (if so, possible problem with Piraha.) Boas (1911) cont.
Side question for those who have heard of this idea: What is the relation of "Language of Thought" posited by Pinker, Fodor, and Pylyshyn (symbolic, predicate-logic type cognitive system), to Boas's ideas on universals? (Boas said nothing about combining categories, just looked at them paradigmatically, so we don't know if he would have gone for a logic-type "underlying universal grammar" or "universal logical form". Open question: Would he have believed in pre-existing cognitive categories? Introductory on Neo-Whorfians, who see a balance between universalism (universal pre-linguistic cognitive categories) and wide variation in possible lexical and grammatical structures that can influence cognitive processing.

ThOct 1 Discussion of some experimental results showing how lingustic categories such as gender influence non-linguistic behavior: thought; memory; gesture. Next up: Sapir, who continues the Boasian descriptivist tradition but adds another universalist overlay.

TuOct 6 Sapir 1. What is language, Take 2. How is language different from other human social and cultural phenomena? Relation to interjections, onomotopoeia. Relation of Sapir's ideas to the related questions "Is thought distinct from language? Is there a "Language of Thought" that allows us to think WITHOUT language? ? First response essay due Tuesday Sapir (1921), Ch. 1, pp. 3-23. Also read corresponding part of Essay on Sapir (1921) on website; and thumbnail bio of Sapir on website.

ThOct 8 No class meeting--instructor goes to a conference. Use class time to read more of the full Sapir excerpt. It is a fairly long reading. [Note on Ch. 2 reading: Pp. 42-53 up to note 15 are recommended as useful background reading if this material is not familiar to you. Grad students in Ling should read the whole piece.] Sapir (1921) Sapir Ch. 2, 24-41, 53-56 and Essay on Sapir (1921), section on Ch. 2. Ch. 4, 56-82
TuOct 13 Midterm break no class
ThOct 15 Sapir 2. The word and its structure. Types of morphemes. Sound categories of language. Two levels of sounds: the "ideal" (= idealized, in-the-mind) sound system, vs. actual sound productions. Establishment of the seminal concept of the phoneme. Categorization of sounds and words. Lexical categorization and its implications. Typological properties of languages.
[Note on reading repeated from above: Pp. 42-53 up to note 15 are recommended as useful background reading if this material is not familiar to you. Grad students in Ling should read the whole piece.] Sapir (1921) Sapir Ch. 2, 24-41, 53-56. Ch. 4, 56-82

TuOct 20 Sapir 3. Kinds of concepts (meaning units) and their relation to linguistic form. 4 concept types with prototypically corresponding form types. Iconicity in the relation of form and content: "size" or "weight" or "complexity" of form has an overall correlation with "richness" or "elaboration" of conceptual content. Questions about differences in types of lexical concepts (Sapir calls them "concrete concepts".) Possible but needs more research. Sapir (1921) Ch. 5, 82-119
ThOct 22 Sapir 4. Sapir's typology of concept types as an expansion on Antoine Meillet's lexical vs. grammatical words contrast. More on the concept and form types he proposes. Is his categorization valid for all languages? Striking a balance between universality and variability. Sapir (1921) Ch. 5, 82-119 cont.
TuOct 27 Bloomfield 1. Bloomfield's model of communication: Basic sketch of a linguistic event. [relates to Karl Bühler's 1930s model of communication, which is essentially similar to Michael Reddy's "conduit" metaphor (which is, in essence, a folk model of communication)]. Relation of Bloomfieldian linguistics to new 20th century intellectual currents: materialism; logical positivism; behaviorism. Despite the new currents, Bloomfield's approach maintains faithfulness to Boasian descriptivism. Bloomfield (1933), Chapter 2. Also read thumbnail bio of Bloomfield.
ThOct 29 Bloomfield 2. Linguistics as a science, Take 2. Bloomfield's (1933) conception of meaning. [If time, comparison with Bloomfield (1914).] Behaviorist description of meaning in terms of external behaviors. Bloomfield's critique of Wundt's 'mentalism' vs. early behaviorism. Later contrast: Skinnerian behaviorism vs. modern mentalism (cognitivism). Bloomfield (1933), Chapter 9

TuNov 3 Whorf 1. Back to Big Question 1, how do linguistic categories relate to a) categories of thought; b) process of thought; c) cultur-specific categories and behaviors. Introduction of the idea of covert categories (no overt markers, but discernible differences in linguistic behavior). This is another example of abstract categories, somewhat like Sapir's zero marking, that many linguists rejected at first. Larger contrast: "Primitive" vs. "civilized modern" societies. Whorf's elevation of the "primitive". (Impulse seems similar to Boas' egalitarianism; but preference is now tilted toward the "primitive".) Whorf (1956) Thinking in Primitive Communities, 65-86. Also read thumbnail bio of Whorf. Second response essay due Tuesday
Re: the Second Response Essay: Choose any topic that relates to the authors we have studied and one or more ideas they dealt with. You can compare authors' takes on a particular topic, or deal with one author's idea, or relate one or more ideas to what you have been studying in other courses or on your own. I'm happy to discuss potential topics with you. See also Ling 403 Resources in Owlspace.

ThNov 5 Whorf 2. More on overt vs. covert categories ("cryptotypes"). Excursus: example from typology: Shape-based linguistic categories. Types of nominal classification: numeral classifier systems; noun classification/gender systems (involving agreement); possessive classifiers. [There is a 4th type, generic classifiers]. Descriptivist tradition continued. Whorf (1956) Grammatical Categories, pp. 87-101

TuNov 10 Whorf 3. More on various classification systems. Excursus/exemplification: Verb systems; transitivity. Relation of basic clause constructions (transitive; intransitive) to verb classes. Specific and generic grammatical categories. Whorf's call for comparison of "similar specific categories". Implication: taking grammatical typology beyond the "morphological typology"--morpheme structure of the word--dominant since Schleicher. Seeds of modern functional-typological approach to grammar (Greenberg, Givón, Comrie and subsequent) Universalists, Whorfians, and neo-Whorfians, on relation of language, mind and culture (Big Question #1 in Linguistics). Whorf (1956), above readings cont.

ThNov 12 Hockett 1. Transition to Big Question #2 in Linguistics (implied in Sapir, but only central from Hockett to present-day linguistics): What, if anything, is unique about human language, as a system of communication? Is it qualitatively different from animal communication? or just different in degree, in specifiable ways. Discussion of some parameters that relate and distinguish human language from various animal communication systems. The vocal/auditory channel. Displacement. Reciprocality. Establishing Linguistics as a science, Take 3. Hockett (1960).

TuNov 17 Hockett 2. More on the "Design Features" of Language. Which features are found, and to what extent, in various animal systems. Which, if any, are unique to human language. What is "Duality of Patterning". Arbitrariness, Take 2 Hockett (1960) cont. Your thumbnail bio of a figure in the history of Linguistics due Tuesday. Grace period if needed.

ThNov 19 Background to Chomskyan linguistics (a.k.a. formal linguistics, generative linguistics). The shift in Linguistics to a focus on syntax instead of phonology and morphology. The sentence becomes the basic unit of analysis. "Grammaticality": The idea of syntactic well-formedness of sentences (different from semantic well-formedness or communicative effectiveness). The competence/performance distinction. Competence is "what speakers know" that makes it possible for them to generate syntactically well-formed sentences ("grammatical" sentences, in descriptive not prescriptive sense). Performance is factors that affect production and comprehension of speech--memory limitations and lapses, speech errors, mishearings. (Compare Saussure's parole - not the same but "performance" is reminiscent of it.)
Lexicon vs. syntactic rules (phrase structure rules plus transformations). Inspiration of Chomsky's model from computational processes (von Neumann architecture). Symbol processing. Grace period for thumbnail bio: turn in to drop box by latest midnight Thursday night.
TuNov 24 The computational/symbolic approach gains ground in American linguistics. Language as an autonomous system, operating essentially independently of meaning, or at least meaning is pushed to the periphery in analysis and explanation. Explanations become totally language-internal and structural.
Europeans interested in linguistic theory remain largely Jakobsonian/Prague School structuralists. Earlier strands persist alongside the newer. European language family specialists: philologists (19th century traditions continuing into 20th); dialectologists (following Neogrammarian call); grammarians (following centuries long traditions; prescriptivism hardly gives way to descriptivism even this late).
Chomsky adopts Nativism as his solution to what makes humans unique: "The language gene" and the syntactic structural constraints it imposes. (Later: Parameter-setting model, allowing for more variation than previously, and some minimal input from experience/learning). How "the language gene" got there: mutation, but no evolution. Chomsky's recent specific answer to what makes language unique: recursion as a structural principle of language. Now he says "broad" aspects of language did evolve; but the crucial part of language that makes us human, namely, recursion in the "narrow core" of language, did not evolve in response to the development of language as a communicative system. Hauser, Fitch, Chomsky (2004)
ThNov 26 Thanksgiving, no class

TuDec 1 Controversies. Pinker and Jackendoff's critique of specific claims of Hauser et al. Pointing out how Chomsky's position is at odds with his earlier positions, but he does not acknowledge it.Pinker and Jackendoff's response to Hauser et al.
ThDec 3 Summary; pulling ideas together. More on current controversies. Last half of class: milk and cookies; bring a treat if you wish. Third response essay: Most compelling issues in Linguistics for the Future? (tracing some strand from work considered this semester)

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